After a slow start, the Evanston High School volleyball team has quietly emerged as a team to watch this season, winning four of its last six matches and posting a perfect 3-0 record so far in the 4A Southwest Quadrant.
After beating Star Valley in a five-set thriller to open quadrant play, the Lady Devils (7-8-1, 3-0 in SW Quadrant) swept Green River during Homecoming Week. Evanston welcomed Jackson (6-5, 1-1 in SW Quadrant) to town Saturday for Senior Night, honoring their seniors with a 3-0 sweep of the Lady Broncs, 25-16, 25-19, 25-22.
“It was emotional, it being Senior Night — I think there’s definitely an added level of expectation and pressure,” said EHS head coach Tera Lawlar. “But I really like when we can honor the seniors early, rather than the final home game of the season. Jackson is a good team — they took a set from Star Valley — so it felt good to get the win.”
The Lady Devils honored six seniors on Saturday — players Taryn Holt, Kambree Brown, Taylor Petersen and Allyson Sawyer and managers Allie Pace and Cora Hatch.
“We started all four of our seniors, which I’ve never done in 20 years,” Lawlar said. “I typically have 10 or 11, so it just wasn’t possible in the past. They’re just a really great group — they’re a core group. They’ve been playing volleyball together since the seventh grade. They’ve grown up with each other. They’ve done a really nice job of creating a positive vibe, they know how to make everyone feel valued.”
As for her two managers, Lawlar said Pace and Hatch have proven to be an invaluable asset to the team’s success.
“I’d be lost without them,” she said. “They are absolutely fabulous. I think Evanston volleyball might be known more for our managers — they’re incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. Other teams are always trying to steal them for a game, because they know they will do things right.”
As emotional as Senior Night can be for players and coaches alike, there was still volleyball to be played, against a talented Jackson squad.
“Dating back to middle school, when Jackson joined our conference, I don’t think these girls have ever lost to them,” Lawlar said. “That’s not a good thing — I think we start to get a little complacent, and a little too comfortable. I felt like I spent a lot of time last week trying to convince our girls that Jackson is a legitimate team, and are doing some very good things.”
Evanston cruised to a 25-16 win in the first set, though Jackson bounced back in the second set, losing a hard-fought battle 25-19. The third set was even closer, with Jackson pulling within three before falling 25-22.
Emily Freeland led the team in kills with 14, followed by Stacia Barker with 11. Mia Barker had another solid outing with nine kills.
“A player that has flown in under the radar is Mia Barker,” Lawlar said. “She kind of gets overshadowed because we’re playing Stacia [Barker] in a different way than how we typically play our middles. When Mia got the ball, she was pretty wicked down the line — she had nine kills, and they came at great times. She was also hitting with a different speed than everyone else, so we were keeping Jackson on their toes.”
Lawlar was also pleased with the play of her two setters — Taylor Petersen and Mackenzie Porter — who did a nice job of keeping the Jackson blockers off balance. Baylie Critchfield led the team in digs with 18.
“Taylor and Mackenzie did a nice job of mixing it up,” Lawlar said. “We’re more diversified in our attack than we have been in a very long time — we like to use our middles, and we’re trying to incorporate our right sides as much as we possibly can. Our setters were consistently switching it up, and finding new hitters to set to. Jackson’s blockers were getting frustrated, and that’s wonderful to see.”
Asked if there was anything about the Jackson match that was cause for concern, Lawlar said she was worried about the team’s energy level — or lack thereof.
“We had a lot working for us, but I thought we were a little flat,” Lawlar said. “Against Jackson, I was proud of them for taking care of business, I just felt like our overall energy level was a little lackluster.”
That said, Lawlar is really pleased with the chemistry of this team, and the ways in which they get the very best out of each other.
“This group’s special sauce is that they all get along,” she said. “They challenge each other, and they’re brutally honest with each other, at times. They are a ‘tell it like it is’ bunch, but I don’t think the hard feelings resonate — they know it’s for the betterment of the team. And if they’re willing to dish it, they better be willing to take it, as well. And they all do.”
This week will be a busy one for the Lady Devils, with home matches against Cody — currently ranked No. 5 in 4A — Friday and Riverton Saturday. Saturday will also be the team’s annual Dig Pink game — fans are encouraged to wear pink for breast cancer awareness.
At 8-3 (1-0 in NW Quadrant), Cody is playing comparable volleyball to Evanston, so it should be a competitive match.
“The girls were playing stiff against Jackson, not fluid at all,” she said. “My focus and goal is for them to play competitive, but still with that spark and energy. We told them that if the focus right now is that we need to keep doing what we’re doing — but find fun doing it — that’s a great problem to have in October.”